Sitara Achikzai, a prominent women’s rights activist was assassinated in outside her home in Kandahar, Afghanistan this past week. Achikzai, who lived in Germany during the Taliban rule, had returned to Afghanistan after the ousting of the Taliban to fight for women’s rights. A member of Kandahar provincial council, she was often vocal in urging women to take jobs and join the fight to regain their rights and push for equality.
This senseless murder sheds light on the continued fight for equality faced by women around the world, a reminder that the feminist movement for equality is far from being completed. Oftentimes, comfortably swayed by our middle-class lifestyles, women may see the fight for equality as a done deal of the 1970’s, forgetting that at any given moment around the world women’s lives are suppressed and enslaved. While relative equality for women has been reached in the first world, in many other regions in the world women suffer from the effects of patriarchy and economic repression, preventing them from living their lives and being recognized as fully human.
BBC article on assassination
Considered to be one of the driest regions in the world, Quillagua, Chile sees very little rainfall and depends heavily on the local river to provide the sustenance needed in order to survive. However, this has drastically changed due to the privatization of water by local mining companies, private businesses, and large agribusinesses. This has left but a trickle of water for residents to use, with what is left over being heavily polluted. Entire towns are being left without water, as the population dwindles downward as people move to different areas where they have better access to basic needs.
This commodification of the environment has been clearly articulated by Karl Polanyi in his seminal work The Great Transformation. Polanyi develops the notion of fictitious commodities, where the human body, the environment, and labor are commodified into entities that may be freely bought and sold. According to Polanyi, this is a necessary development in order to have a truly free market. However, this commodification is based on a false premise, that in the case of Chile, the land may be owned and treated as a product of man. In actuality land is simply another name for nature – something human beings cannot truly own and call a product of themselves.
New York Times Article on privatization of water in Chile
Journal article on privatization in Chile
A recent report from the British medical journal The Lancet reports that over 100,000 women died in fires in India in a single year (see New York Times article). These fires stem from a serious domestic abuse issues in India in which women are doused in gasoline and set ablaze, their deaths blamed on “kitchen accidents.” Domestic abuse as become a major problem in the country, as women are often killed over dowry disputes, with no repercussions sought against the men who are responsible for the killings. Women rights activists blame the Indian government for not doing enough to address the problem.
This brings about issues of justice and women’s rights. Susan Moller Okin writes in her work on gender and justice that “until there is justice within the family, women will not be able to gain equality in politics, at work, or in any other sphere.” This is true on an international scale as well as domestic. Until women are viewed as equal within the family, injustice will reign in all domains. Women must be granted the same opportunities to develop their capacities as human beings, participate fully in society, and influence social choices.
Oftentimes women’s rights can take a myopic view, with struggles for inequality within one’s own country taking precedence. However, to truly adopt a genuine view of social justice, Okin tells us that justice is not simply a “view from nowhere” but instead is derived from accounting for everyone’s point of view. Therefore a true struggle for women’s equality must address the inequality present in places such as India as well as on a domestic front.
New York Times article
Susan Okin on women and human rights
With the election of an American president committed to the expansion and endowment of the sciences, a recent New York Times article posed the question asked by many scientists: how to attract women into the sciences. However, as the article later touches on, women’s entrance into the fields of science involve much more than making a career in science appear attractive for women. Women working in scientific career’s must be “attracted” to science as young children, made to feel comfortable in science classes, and not tracked into more “female oriented” careers as girls often have. While some have hinted at the fact that women have lower numbers in areas such as advanced physics due to women’s lack of comprehension in advanced mathematics. Evalyn Gates, the assistant director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, has asked the question “why should it be, that almost half of high school students in Advanced Placement physics classes are girls, but women earn only a fifth of bachelor’s degrees in physics?” However, as feminists have long since pointed out it is not always women who have limited themselves. Teachers have often directed girls away from science classes and even those who persist on to acquire advanced degrees are oftentimes met with a burdensome path that requires many sacrifices of family and social lives.
Read More – New York Times article
Women in Science
Turn on the news on any given channel at any time during the day and more than likely you will hear something of the “hard times” befalling Americans as we continue to struggle through was has finally been recognized as a recession. As the holidays are upon us, pundits lament how holiday sales are down and people are modestly spending on one another. However, perhaps we Americans should be putting in perspective what we view as “tough times.”
Since August in Zimbabwe, 484 people have died from a cholera outbreak with over 11,700 more cases reported. In an area plagued by war and economic degradation, the sanitation and water system has collapsed, leaving thousands without access to clean water. Although easily treated, hospitals and clinics are faced with many stricken with the disease and no supplies to treat it with.
As we sit worrying about the effects of facebook on our lives and if we can afford our cellphone bill, we should keep in mind that we, as a collective, comfortable middle class, are more often than not engaging in what Thorstein Veblen categorized as “conspicuous consumption.” Where we live to outlook, outspend, and outshow others around us. Our financial crisis needs to be placed in perspective. Alas for others in various parts of the world, consumption for survival is the only thing on one’s mind. So perhaps when you update your facebook status before bed tonight, remember that someone’s status in Zimbabwe is seeking clean water and refuge.
BBC Report on crisis in Zimbabwe
The Disneyization of Society
Georg Simmel’s concept of the stranger is a person who is both near and far at the same time. They are a part of society, yet remain on the fringes, never completely accepted as full members of society. Racism, although disguised into (mostly) covert forms is largely believed to have been overcome. Barrack Obama’s election win to many signified the possible end of a sad era in American history where racial discrimination fueled the headlines. However, despite the monumental nature of this win, racism still prevails. While many danced in the streets victoriously, some African Americans were confronted with burning crosses, racial epithets, and black figures hanging from nooses. According to a New York Times article, “There have been ‘hundreds’ of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.” One explanation of the hate is offered by sociologist BJ Gallagher is simple, ”If I can’t hurt the person I’m angry at, then I’ll vent my anger on a substitute, i.e., someone of the same race.”
Read More: New York Times article
Against the notion of a “new racism”
Children in Tijuana, Mexico went about their normal morning routine on a school day only to be confronted with twelve dead bodies dumped in the field directly across from their school. At other times, students have had to flee school in a panic as gunfights have broken out between police and drug traffickers. In Tijuana alone, 99 bodies have been discovered since September 26th in a rash of violence that has a death toll higher than that of Baghdad during the same time. Violence has become an all too unfortunate part of the scenery for children living along the US border as they attempt to grow up under constant warfare all around them. Social Learning theory teaches us that people are led to engage in criminal activity as a consequence of being associated with others involved in crime. For these children of Mexico, they grow up learning of the “heroes” of their community – drug traffickers who rule the land. They hear songs about them and watch grisly murders scenes on Youtube. This positive association with crime leads impacts youth who grow up seeing few other viable alternatives for lifestyles.
New York Times article on violence in Mexico
The effects of witnessing violence
Racism takes many forms, constantly shifting in expression in order to brace against the ever widening borders of contact between foreign cultures and ethnicities. Race has once again taken the spotlight as the contest for the US presidential election hosts the first African American presidential candidate and the country collectively examines how much race plays a role in the mind of its citizens. Religious bigotry has also played a role as whisper campaigns spread word of Obama’s supposed Muslim faith in an effort to deter votes. Recently speaking out, former Secretary of State Colin Powell asked not that we stop confusing the faith of Obama, but that we ask ourselves why a Muslim could not be a viable candidate for the United State’s highest position. Why cannot young Muslim Americans dream of one day taking over the presidency? Do we still consider Muslims foreigners we must be suspicious of? Gordon Allport’s theory of Contact proposes that prejudices will decrease if groups have equal access to one another. Cooperation over competition will lead to more harmony among groups. As our world becomes increasingly globalized the need to better understand one another becomes vital. We are each other’s neighbor.
Washington Post article
Intergroup conflict resolution article
Abortion remains a hotly contested subject within society, and with the election looming high, the pro-choice/pro-life divide continues to provide a means of voting allocations. A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute (see article below), a nonprofit reproductive health research organization, brings a new dynamic into the abortion debate. The Institutes comprehensive examination of abortion reveals that during the past thirty years, abortion rates have dropped among teenage whites and risen among women of color in their 20’s and 30’s. This raises a question about not only who seeks abortions, but why. Patricia Hill Collin’s notion of “matrix of domination” becomes useful here, as we see that abortion is never simply a decision of wanting to be a parent or not. Instead, class, race, global location, sexuality, and age all compound the issue and affect choice. In such uncertain economic times, the affects of class and income most be taken into account as to why abortions are sought out.
Husting on Protest